Airworthy Postmortem, Part II (Campbell Airport Flight School)

Micah Martin

Aug 2016

Campbell Airport Flight School (Operated by Airworthy) ceased operation at the end of August, 2016. This is a simple story. At the end of 2015, Campbell Airport's flight school and FBO, Cardinal, shutdown. The owners retired. No one was learning to fly there and it was sad.

Joseph Zubay, my flight instructor, had a vision to revive the flight school. I liked his vision. And I was looking for something to do (see the first postmortem), so we did it. With help from some wonderful people (mentioned below) we revived the flight school. At least we tried. For reasons beyond our control, our vision became unattainable at Campbell Airport. Perhaps we dreamed too big. In addition, I moved to Arizona and that complicated things. Closing the school was the only reasonable choice.

A message from Joseph Zubay:

Airworthy's Campbell Airport Flight School is completely ceasing operations as of August 31, 2016. All planned Light Sport Pilot, Private Pilot, Commercial Pilot, Instrument Pilot and Advanced Instrument Pilot Ground Schools, Master Pilot Seminars, FAASafety Seminars, and Flying Companion Seminars have been canceled. All Flight Training and Aircraft Rental is hereby terminated.

I want to thank Micah Martin, Angelique Martin, Susan Rosso, and Lorenzo Jaimes who provided the backing, the creative skills, marketing and the invaluable back office support facilitating the rapid growth and financial success of the flight school.

I want to thank JB Aviation Management at Galt Airport for the excellent maintenance services provided for the flight school aircraft. Thank you Brian Spiro and team. Not one scheduled flight lesson or aircraft rental was canceled due to equipment maintenance problems or scheduling.

But most of all, I want to thank the fine Ground and Flight Instructors who made up the heart of the team. Anthony "Doc" Dockery, a key contributor in getting the flight school started, and David R. Lieberman and John P. Boos, both instructors who started with the flight school on its very first day of operation and continued to provide their excellent professional services through the flight school's last day of operation.

It was a great ride! I wish it could have continued.

Airworthy Postmortem (Pilot Log App)

Micah Martin, Founder & CEO

Jan 2016

Airworthy, LLC was a company that aimed to help pilots and aircraft navigate the copious regulations to stay airworthy (“current” being the term used by pilots). Through the use of mobile and web, we made it trivial (virtually automatic) to record flight time. We stored logs in the cloud, and use the data to proactively inform pilots of their airworthy status. Aircraft logs would come later.

As of Dec 2015, Airworthy, LLC has been closed. It’s a sad story, but not with out a silver lining. I personally learned a lot from this adventure and I’d like to share my lessons learned. But first, a brief timeline of events.

  • November 2014: I share my idea for digital log books with Nick Meccia (User Interface/Design Craftsman). Airworthy, LLC was formed and Nick and I work part time.

  • Feb 2015: We reserve a booth at Oshkosh, the largest airshow in the world. Nick and I work full time.

  • March 2015: Justin Martin (Software Craftsman and my brother) joins Airworthy. Work on iOS begins.

  • July 2015: Airworthy debues at Oshkosh.

  • Dec 2015: Airworthy ceases operations.

Lessons Learned

1. The CEO is the source of passion and drive.

To explain, I have to give you some of my background. Airworthy was the third company I started. The first was 8th Light, Inc. and at the time I was still an major owner and chairman of the board. My duties at 8th Light consumed roughly 1 day a week. The second was Clean Coders, LLC, and although I had recently found a CEO (Tadd Linderman) to take over for me, I was working on a video series (Java Case Study) with my father, Uncle Bob. This consumed roughly another day of my week.

When Justin, Nick and I were all in the office coding hard on Airworthy, it was not uncommon for me to excuse myself to go work on for one of these other companies. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was hurtful to Nick, Justin, and the company at large. In the end, Nick, and particularly Justin, told me that when they saw me leave, the felt that my passion was not in Airworthy; that my other business were more important to me. Over time, their passion and hard work tapered.

As the founder and CEO, you must be a well of passion. Your team will come to you to feed from your passion. The more you put into the company, the more your team will put in.

2. MVP; Don’t loose sight of it.

In the beginning, Nick and I were building the basics of a pilot log book. This felt like the natural place to start. Of course there were other digital log books out there, but ours was going to be better. We had plans for grand features, but a we wanted to get a bare-bones product (an MVP, or "Minimum Viable Product") done first.

When Justin moved back to Chicago after his conquests in the fiery startup scene of New York, he joined Airworthy and got us excited about a more adventurous approach. We were going to give pilots something they had never seen: a cunning, sleek interface and automagic logging so pilots would never need to take their phone out of their pocket. People’s first impression of our app was going to be awe-inspiring.

All of a sudden, our scheduled slipped by months.

3. Listen to your gut.

The moment Nick and I started work in 2014, these nagging questions arose in my gut: “How much money are you going to spend on this? How do you know when to quit?” Important questions no doubt! I had the answers when we signed up for Oshkosh. That was it. If we don’t have an impressive product that attracts thousands of pilots by the time we debut at Oshkosh, then I pull the plug. Ah, what a relief to have the kind of certainty! My gut was content.

As I mentioned, our schedule had slipped. At Oshkosh, I’m proud to say we had quite an impressive booth. But when it came to demoing the app...even the guy selling shoe insoles at the booth next door could tell it was half-baked. It worked and was “useable,” but automatic logging was far from perfect, and our sleek interface was missing several screens. Buy the end of the week we about 250 pilots had signed up, but none of them were “using” our app. A lukewarm response.

Did I listen to my gut and pull the plug? No. “We had only just begun! We debuted too early! Our product wasn’t ready yet! We have to get a real polished version out and then we’ll see the pilots flock in!” That’s what I told myself. More importantly, that’s what Angelique (my wife and, for all intents and purpose, our bank) said. After Oshkosh, we had a blank check and no deadline. My gut recognized this to be a terrible situation, but I didn’t listen.

4. Know your competition before opening the kimono.

This builds on a lesson I learned at 8th Light. Early in 8th Light's existence I was extremely tight-lipped with the competition. They were the enemy, and the less they knew the better. My attitude pulled a 180 when Corey Haines (a true software journeyman) invited 8th Light and 6 of our competitors to a meeting. We called it the Cluster of 7 and in this meeting we poured our hearts out to each other. To my surprise, the world did not end. On the contrary, all of our companies profited from the experience, and these meetings continue today. The point here is that we knew each other, or at least Corey did, and he vouched for each company at the table.

On the aviation side of software, I had acquired great respect for a company called ForeFlight. Their iOS app was incredible! We knew they were the most likely candidate to build a competing product, but I wanted to be their friend so bad, just like 8th Light was friends with its competitors. So in March 2015, we got a call with one of their executives and poured our hearts out. We told them all about Airworthy and our road map for features. ForeFlight was kind and respectful, and in retrospect, they may have been taking good notes.

At Oshkosh I visited the ForeFlight booth to say hi. I gave them Airworthy t-shirts and tried to have a friendly chat, but it was awkward.

In December 2015, ForeFlight announced their new Logbook feature. It basically does what Airworthy did. ForeFlight was nearly ubiquitous amongst pilots and we had no desire to compete. Airworthy stopped development.

5. The only shame is in not trying at all.

Airworthy is my first failed business. Am I ashamed? Nope! And I have no regrets in Airworthy. We gave it our best shot and had a blast doing it. Justin, Nick, and I gained a ton of valuable experience. We’re better designers, developers, and businessmen because of it. And now, the business niche were were trying to fill is filled, albeit by ForeFlight and not Airworthy. But I happily use their logbook feature when I fly now.